herald

Wednesday 7 December 2016

Kenny scrapes over the line as Leo is dumped out of health

The Taoiseach with his new cabinet
The Taoiseach with his new cabinet

Enda Kenny's first major decision as Taoiseach of the new Dáil was to dent Leo Varadkar's leadership ambitions by demoting him out of the health ministry.

The Fine Gael leader promoted the career paths of Mr Varadkar's rivals Frances Fitzgerald, Simon Coveney and Paschal Donohoe while moving him to Social Protection.

Now, 29-year-old Simon Harris is to take over the crisis- ridden Department of Health.

On a day of political farce, Mr Kenny was re-elected as Taoiseach after a massive bust-up over whether the new government could loosen rules surrounding turf cutting.

Eventually, he managed to secure the support of nine Independents, three of whom will now serve in Cabinet.

But it was the decision to put Mr Varadkar into Social Protection that caused the largest surprise.

The Herald understands that Mr Varadkar was keen to leave Health after just over two years, - but had hoped to get Foreign Affairs or Enterprise.

Speaking on RTE news last night, he said he saw his new role as a "big opportunity" and was relishing the challenge.

He said he didn't view it as a demotion.

"No. It's a big opportunity. Like you say, on a certain level, I'm sorry to be leaving Health but there's a lot of real opportunities in the Department of Social Protection.

Simon Harris is believed to have been lined up for Social Protection before being switched to Health to make way for Mr Varadkar.

Justice minister Frances Fitzgerald will serve as Tanaiste, while Paschal Donohoe will take over the Department of Public Expenditure.

Portfolio

And Simon Coveney is to be the new Minister for Housing, Planning and Local Government, which also includes responsibility for Irish Water.

Mr Kenny introduced five new names to the Cabinet. They include Independents Denis Naughten (Minister for Climate Change), Katherine Zappone (Minister for Children) and Shane Ross (Minister for Transport).

Mary Mitchell O'Connor is to be the new Minister for Jobs, and Michael Creed will be Minister for Agriculture.

Addressing the Dail, Mr Kenny said: "If economic survival was the urgent priority of the last government then using a strong economy to improve the quality of the lives of our people, must and will be the priority of the new government and that fundamental principle will be the bedrock of our policy programme."

Mr Kenny accepted very many people have not felt a revival in the economy in the six years.

He said his minority government had been formed in "almost unprecedented circumstances" which created room for a new and inclusive democracy.

"Everyone will have the opportunity to play a constructive role as we work in partnership together to build a better Ireland," he said.

"It will be a great test of our democracy, of our character and indeed of this house, a test that I am convinced that we will pass."

Mr Kenny said the hung parliament thrown up by the election meant no party has a mandate to "instruct, force, direct or coerce" anyone else.

"We, therefore, must all work together in the best interests of all our people," he said.

Mr Kenny was re-elected Taoiseach by 59 votes to 49, largely with thanks to the abstention of Fianna Fail.

The vote took place after a series of desperate meetings between Fine Gael and members of the Independent Alliance as they tried to get Roscommon TD Michael Fitzmaurice to back the government.

The former Turf Cutters and Contractors Association leader eventually abstained after failing to get the assurances he wanted that EU rules relating to bogs would be changed.

Fairer

Following the vote, Mr Kenny received his seal of office from President Michael D Higgins before formally announcing the new Cabinet.

Mr Kenny said his new government had a plan for a more caring, fairer and more prosperous Ireland with a belief in the enormous potential of the Irish people and country.

"The new government will be driven by a firm belief that good politics can help to realise all of that potential in the interest of all our people all over the country," he said.

Despite giving Mr Kenny understated support, Fianna Fail leader Micheal Martin attacked his minority government.

He said his party would provide strong opposition.

"The damage of regressive and divisive policies in recent years has been significant," he said.

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